By Daniel Antunes
Though not a town whose sound system culture is nationally known or applauded for its innovation and vibrancy, Huddersfield has one of the richest histories of dub and roots music.
A music culture that was brought in through west indie Windrush communities that sought work in a post-war period, having been one of the many former British colonial regions/countries that had contributed towards the war effort, the integration of British-Caribbean identity within the U.K created a blueprint for many of the musical cultures prevalent in today’s popular music spectrum.
Through a lack of allowed social integration within aspects of pre-existing ‘British’ culture, a product of institutionalised racism and stereotyping, these Windrush communities had to create their own musical cultures from the Reggae and sound system cultures they’d come from. The traditional Afro-Caribbean style of festivities, some of which were interwoven with the increasing popularity of Ethiopian originated Rastafarianism, were partially replicated in the UK but developed differentiating aspects due to the climate and these aforementioned social barriers. Where festivities had before taken place in outdoor areas and had a more reliant and larger demographic, these celebrations started to take place in venues like music halls and were met with little support from the established communities.
Due to a need for industry workers such as that in textile and industrial assembly line work, something that attracted a great number of those from these west indie backgrounds, Huddersfield became a hub for these sound-system events. Though not a town whose sound system culture is nationally known or applauded for its innovation and vibrancy, Huddersfield has one of the richest histories of dub and roots music.
As these grassroots communities emerged the so did a system of self-supportive entrepreneurship. Labels, collectives and homegrown sound systems, as pre-existing set-ups in venues couldn’t accommodate for the bass-intense style of music and growing audience size became a major component within the culture. With an initial lack of interest around the time for the type of music coming out of these communities, music was being self-released and dubplates cut for a demographic that existed outside of the already established industry.
A huge part of Huddersfield’s 1960-80s sound system culture was Venn Street, the road near The Parish leading to Lord street. As an area that specialised in putting events on for these sounds the community flourished and became a beacon for dub acts both nationally and internationally. Whether it was hosting acts like Iration steppas from Leeds or superstars like Gregory Isaacs or John Holt, the venue soon gathered infamy within Dub social circles. This was unfortunately disrupted when it’s pinnacle club, the Silver Sands, was knocked down to create Kingsgate car park in 1992.
With this erasing of venues and diminished interest in these once healthy musical scenes, only small remnants of this golden era exist. Places like Northern Quarter still pay homage with their vintage reggae night, which normally mirrors the vinyl style playing of the time, while Huddersfield’s yearly carnival carries the spirit of these culturally rich celebrations. One-off events also seem to pop up every so often in places like Bassment, which has hosted Dub events in the past, most recently in December, and places like Small seeds which will be hosting a Reggae Yoga session this Sunday, though this is something that treads finely on the celebrative/appropriative line.
The ever-changing nature of contemporary music has also mutated the definition of sound system music and how it’s consumed. Though not as traditionally dub infused, bass genres like bassline and drum and bass have become increasingly popular in Huddersfield with the town’s association with the scene becoming stronger with the day. With these changes, the focus on sound systems has also increased to become more ferocious and powerful with establishments like Sinai Sound Systems becoming a staple in the area.
The lack of spaces for venues like the Silver Sands also stagnates the possibility for a revival of such a time especially when the nightlife is so commercially focused.
All this considered it’s nice to fondly think of a time where sound-system culture was healthy in Huddersfield and the town had a strong and diverse musical identity. We can only hope such an identity emerges again and that it won’t simply a nod of nostalgia.
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